Mark’s blog – December 2019
I was walking around the supermarket last Saturday morning, taking my elderly mum shopping, and I was unexpectedly caught up in a moment. Without warning the whole thing, the supermarket, all of human life and the entire physical universe suddenly seemed to me to become completely absurd. The sheer physicality of what I could see around me car-crashed itself into my own personal reality in Christ and I was instantly overwhelmed with the utter stupidity of it all. But, here’s the thing – this wasn’t a depressing realisation – not at all. No, it was funny, hilarious even. The stark contrast between the unseen, yet true, spiritual nature of reality – Jesus Christ, God the Father, the Holy Spirit and heaven – and what I could see right in front of me – the people milling around the aisles looking for their favourite biscuits or gluten-free sausages – made me smile a big hearty smile. Not in a mocking way, you understand, but just as if I had, for the first time, seen things for what they truly are – both the solid reality of the spiritual world and the shocking pointlessness, on its own, of the physical realm. I’m not the first person in history to experience this, of course.
Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV)
Maybe you’ve had your own sudden encounter like this at some point. If you have, take a moment right now to reflect on how this made you feel.
Of course, without the hope of Christ and His salvation, life is ultimately bleak and depressing. No wonder we have such an epidemic of despair if all we have to live for are our favourite biscuits or gluten-free sausages.
If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32, cf. Isaiah 22:13, NIV)
Don’t you love it, when God says ‘But’…?
But, a different reality came crashing into our world 2,000 years ago. The spiritual became physical, so the physical could understand it is really spiritual. Hope came crashing into the earth that first Christmas night, and everything changed. Biscuits were no longer just a source of comfort, but a blessing to remind us to turn our hearts to the source of all good things, the Creator of biscuits and everything else. Now all physical things can be seen as secondary to Him, subject to Him, made by Him and made for Him, including us, His people. This is the true power of the Christmas story – in a godless world where nothing means anything, God arrives unexpectedly and now everything means something. All people have value and all life is loaded with meaning and purpose and all things are His things.
Maybe take a moment to think about this the next time you find yourself in the supermarket in the run up to Christmas.
Mark’s blog – September 2019
“She’s fluent in French you know. Often gets mistaken for a local!”
Ever been tempted to feel just a little envious of your fellow British people who have a natural bent for picking up foreign languages? When a well-meaning, friendly French person rabbits off a sentence in their mother tongue, innocently expecting an equally fluent reply from me, my few stock phrases soon feel grossly inadequate. I have a little French vocabulary, but almost no French grammar, so sentence construction ‘on the fly’ is impossible for me.
I wonder if it’s like that for most of us when it comes to the gospel. We know a few stock phrases like ‘Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins’, but as soon as a ‘local’ asks us a question that’s seemingly unrelated to our few stock phrases, we feel we have nothing left to say – we’ve already used up our best shot. Or so we might think.
The gospel is good news, but how many of us experience this good news when we wake up in the morning, in the midst of an ordinary day, or even when bad news strikes? Through the autumn series, we’re going to equip you to preach the gospel to yourself, applying the truths about Jesus to your everyday life so that you can believe more and more about Him as you journey through your life. This is really what sanctification is all about – believing more and more of the gospel until you reach maturity in the faith.
The ‘Gospel Fluency’ is also about being equipped to be able to speak the truths about Jesus to others, in any and every situation. And to do this in a non-cheesy, non-contrived manner that has real power to unlock people’s hearts and draw them closer to Christ. If you can preach the gospel to yourself, you can preach it to others as you listen to their story and identify what it is that they’re not believing about Jesus right now.
For some of you this might be an uncomfortable season. Maybe you’ve been sold the lie that the gospel is only for leading people to Jesus, not for making them more like Him. If that’s you, get ready for some good news: the gospel is for all of life; for Christians as much as non-Christians. Jesus is inescapable and He is pursuing each one of us. Let’s pray that as a result of this teaching, we all stand united as a gospel-centred church with Jesus at the centre of everything we think, say and do.
I’ll leave the final words to Rend Collective:
When I stand accused by my regrets
And the devil roars his empty threats
I will preach the gospel to myself
That I am not a man condemned
For Jesus Christ is my defence
My sin is nailed to the cross
My soul is healed by the scars
The weight of guilt I bear no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord
Mark’s Blog – June 2019
Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2). He did not come announcing ‘Do you people have any idea who I am?’ even though He could justifiably have started by singing His own praises. He came humbly, even telling people he healed not to reveal His true identity. Why was this?
He could have ripped open the sky and declared His own glory, but He chose to wash feet and hug lepers. He chose to bide His time.
What do we need to learn from his example to us?
Do we start by announcing our presence in the community, saying ‘Make way, the Christians are coming!’, or do we get on with serving, and, like Jesus, wait to be asked questions about why we are doing these things, and in whose name?
I can see how ROC could easily be misunderstood as just social gospel but, in fact, it’s only ever been about the full Gospel. We can look on such ministries and wonder if they are proper Christians, or even if they have sold out to the world for not starting with evangelism. But Ephesians 4 five-fold ministry starts with missional, apostolic work, not with evangelism. As every Third World missionary knows, evangelism comes a little later in the process, after credibility and trust has been built in the community, and after people start asking the question ‘Why would you do this for me? You don’t even know me.’ Let’s follow the apostolic model Jesus gave us, through people-based movements like ROC and become the real deal, declaring Jesus’ Lordship over every area of human life. If our God is not passionate about every school, every police station, every council chamber, and every hospital, He is not Lord at all. We would do well to consider the example of ROC and imitate them as they imitate Christ. It’s not that we don’t proclaim the Kingdom, it’s about what context are we culturing in our community to speak the Kingdom into? As the stories emerge from ROC Dawlish that tell how the doors are opening for the Gospel, consider how you might pray and respond. The Holy Spirit is moving in this land in a new and unexpected way. ROC is part of that Kingdom-building movement.
Mark’s Blog – May 2019
A moment of great change is upon us, and I’m not talking about the new build. Although the prospect of a new building is indeed a great thing to celebrate, it is, in one sense, nothing to do with the church. Let me explain why. As we should all be aware, the church is the people, and we don’t want to do anything to reinforce the false idea that the church is made of timber, stone, metal and concrete. In reality, the church is made of flesh and blood brought fully alive by the Spirit of God. So, if it’s not the new building I’m, talking about, what’s this great change in the life of the church?
I passionately believe that what we are undergoing as a church body is not a relocation, but a restart. In the waiting time between Old Town Street and Warren Grove we have the rare opportunity to ask ourselves a range of searching questions about who were are and who we are truly called to be. Few churches ever get the chance to take stock like this, stripped of a home of their own for a season, before the blessing and temptation of having ‘their own’ building returns. We must use this time wisely and get ready for what’s next.
Before we open our doors on the ‘first Sunday’ in the new building, we need to have in place a scalable process for meeting, engaging, befriending, connecting and discipling a potentially large number of new people, lest we all suddenly find ourselves with more new friends than we know what to do with. Usually, when any form of revival comes, the influx of newcomers is not the limiting factor. In the recent Reading revival (which started in the Spring of 2016), the capacity of the local churches to handle a significant influx of new people over a relatively short period of time was stretched to breaking point: (https://prophecytoday.uk/images/The_Turning_Learning_Review_public_V_4.pdf)
So, how do we achieve this necessary increase in our people-handling capacity? In the Industrial Revolution, the division of labour was found to greatly increase productivity, as every £20 note reminds us. Yet this discovery was nothing new. The same principle was identified 1,600 years earlier. Ephesians 4:11-13 (ESV) states this: “And he (Christ) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”. Any church that fails to embrace the biblical pattern of Ephesians 4 will likely suffer three things. Firstly, their church leaders will burn out. Secondly, they will fail to make disciples. Thirdly, the church will never get to the mission field, by which I mean, first and foremost, the one on our doorstep.
We’ve been clearly led by the Lord to reconsider this passage, and much more besides, and we’ll be telling something of this inspiring prophetic story over the coming weeks and months. This great change in the life of the church centres on us fully embracing our corporate leadership structure by dispensing with any remaining notion of a paid leader who is able to fulfil all five ministries. We must similarly admit that, up to this point, we’ve probably not been fulfilling all five ministries in the life of the church, so some areas have been rather neglected, perhaps.
To increase our ‘people capacity’ we first need a simultaneous multiplication of senior leadership and an Ephesians 4-style differentiation of those leaders. Following this, the whole church can be more readily mobilised as each leader gathers around them a team of similarly gifted people whom they can begin to ‘equip’ for ‘the work of ministry’. Alongside this focus on senior leadership, we’re beginning to work out a long-term sustainable ministry plan that factors in the likely staffing costs to run the church and the new centre, along with realistic estimates of income the centre might generate to cover these costs, at least in part.
Our new building will certainly be built on firm foundations. In the same way, if we don’t build the church from a new, firm foundation, we will inevitably build on what has gone before and the structure that emerges will unintentionally place too much emphasis on one paid leader. Let’s think team. Let’s think disciple-making. Let’s mobilise this church for mission and get ready to see the Kingdom come in Dawlish as it is in heaven.
As follow-up to this blog, here’s the link to a relevant video shown at the recent church weekend away: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ox-bcM6DKzo. Also, here’s the link to the Ephesians 4 fivefold ministry online test where you can begin to assess where God may be leading you to serve: http://www.fivefoldsurvey.com/surveys/new?locale=en. There are 80 redundant questions, so try not to over-think your answers. Be brutally honest about yourself and try to avoid answering ‘sometimes’ for too many of the questions. The more polarised you answers are (i.e. try to say rarely or often as much as you can) the more starkly your true gifting will emerge. Any questions, please do come back to me.
God bless you all,